TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She’d moved to the mountain to escape humanity so she was surprised one day to see large, bare footprints in the snow by the frozen pond. Curious, she took a plate of food, and left it there, complete with a fork. When she returned the next day, the plate and fork, completely clean, were where she’d left them. She kept leaving food, and retrieving the dishes, every day…until she’s spiked that high fever and her stomach revolted against her. On her third day in bed, she startled when she heard heavy footsteps on the front stoop… .
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Sit beside me, young Randolph. Bring your parchment and quill. Those who sent us will want a record of what has transpired here. I have yet strength enough to tell this tale, but make haste! Death holds my ankle even now.
During winter climes most captains take their vessels southward in search of spermaceti along the known migration routes, but I much prefer solitude. I know those waters and those captains and I’ve long had my fill of both. It is for this reason that we are journeyed as far away from that rabble as earth can provide. And indeed, there are pods of whales here that have enjoyed generations of peace. Breeching as they do amongst the frozen mountains of ice. There is protection for them here, but not from me. Courage and skill and that is enough. Eighty barrels in the hold already. But I will not again see Nantucket. Now I come to that.
We have a stowaway on board, Master Randolph! Can you believe it? This life is hard and we are headed towards neither sand nor sun. Yet the fact remains! His presence was not discovered until we were many weeks underway. I believe it was a fortnight or thereabouts when I first made his acquaintance. While making my rounds and tallying our barrels I noticed peculiar footprints in the spermaceti oil pooling on the deck below. That of child by the looks of it, and the left foot was minus its great toe. Missing limbs are hardly exotic in this profession, but children certainly are. And they are most unwelcome! But where was the child hiding? Why was he here? I was incensed! To my mind this creature was no different from the bilge rats infesting our food stuffs! And I would deal with this new vermin accordingly.
You might think, Randolph, that finding a stowaway in such close quarters would be a thing solved in several minutes. Not so! There are many places to hide if one is small and also clever. This is was the case, of course. Else he would have been discovered weeks before. But one thing common to all mankind is hunger. Whatever scraps a stowaway might collect would be meager and putrid at best. I would serve him from the bounty of my own private mess! And I would see to it that such delicacies were garnished with something special prepared from the bottles of my own surgeon! The matter would be closed soon enough.
I called for our Dr. Gregory Hampstead to come to my quarters. Bah! He is no better at poisoning food than he is at arresting gangrene! Oh, he concocted a preparation, true enough. And he showed me its potency by injecting one of his captured rats with it. Dead in minutes, it was. However, said he, a person, even a child, would take longer to succumb to the poison’s effects. I would need to be patient, said he. I am not good at that: patience. Not when my anger is at full froth.
My cook prepared a rack of mutton. Who could resist? Word spread among the crew that to touch this meal meant flogging, and so even the leanest of deckhands left it undisturbed. But before I plated the mutton I massaged in all of Dr. Hampstead’s preparation. There would be no waiting. The entire meal was dusted white with his toxic powder. Enough coating to have laced a dozen such racks. But it appears the Good Doctor neglected to school me on protocols for handling his toxin. Cuts on both hands from the work we do became the conduit to my impending doom. I am down to hours now, curse him! And if that weren’t enough, I am still no closer to capturing and killing our stowaway! The mutton lays there still!
The door, Randolph! Speak of the devil! Here stands my physician upon my threshold! Let him in; I have more curses in store for him!
“Good evening, Captain. How is your level of comfort?”
“My comfort! You know well enough! The inept doctor visits while the Reaper waits! Your fault! I would see you hanged!”
“Yes, I am daresay you would! That’s the sort of captain you are. I know your mortal state as well as I know the condition of your immortal soul. And I know the real reason why you were not keen on meeting up with the rest of the fleet at the southern pole. Your past is what haunts you, Sir. In the offing comes a reckoning. That is why I brought those mannequin’s legs on board with me. The proprietor of the dress shoppe would not part with anything but a broken set of child’s limbs. I knew they would do. The sort of man that would poison a child is poisoned already. Today your master welcomes you home, Captain. Master Randolph?”
“Did you rouse a confession?”
“No, Sir. He’ll never face who he is.”
“Oh, I believe he will. And shortly. No matter. You are Captain now, Randolph. A grateful crew awaits your orders.”
“Treachery abounds! I’ll see you both in Hell!”
“Do keep my seat warm, Captain. I hear they serve mutton today.”